Raise a toast to good public speakers


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

On a rainy Tuesday evening in late April, twenty-five Penn State Behrend students gathered at Nunzi’s Place to test techniques they had learned in CAS 100 Effective Speech. They dressed up for the occasion. The women wore dresses and cardigans. The men wore business casual attire. A few even wore ties. They sat at banquet tables arranged in a horseshoe formation around a podium.

To the left, at a small table discretely tucked in the corner, Dr. Miriam McMullen-Pastrick, lecturer in speech communication, took notes.

No pressure there, right?

But, pressure is sort of the point at the Toasters’ Banquet—an end-of-class tradition for students in McMullen-Pastrick’s classes.

“I want to put them in situations they might actually have to face when they are making post-graduate contributions to the world,” she said. “In their future, they may have to give opening remarks at an event, or introduce a VIP at a corporate banquet, or debate funding cuts at their child’s school board meeting. These are real situations they are likely to face at some point in their lives. The banquet gives them a chance to practice.”

Each class organizes their own banquet, collecting money from classmates for dinner, creating and printing programs, and voting on which classmates should receive awards — some serious and some not-so-serious.

On that rainy Tuesday that Section 005 had their banquet, Andy Peterson, a junior Physics major, gave opening remarks. Brian Ristau, a freshman Engineering major, introduced Jacob Roth, a sophomore Earth and Mineral Science major, who gave an informative speech. Zach Reese, a junior Mechanical Engineering major offered a toast.

And, so it went, with all twenty-five students taking at least one turn at the podium, offering a variety of entertaining, informative, and persuasive speeches, debates, toasts, and introductions until Guiliana Latella, a sophomore Nursing student, gave the closing remarks.

Between all the speeches and presentations, they enjoyed a small feast—pizza, pasta, meatballs, antipasto, and dessert—during which they were encouraged by McMullen-Pastrick to work on their dinner conversation skills.

Throughout the evening, the students laughed, joked, and listened attentively to one another. But, as McMullen-Pastrick might remind you, part of being a good speaker is being a respectful and intense listener. “They learn by listening to each other with focus and purpose,” she said.

McMullen-Pastrick typically teaches three sections of CAS 100 each semester and attends a banquet for each. In the Spring 2014 semester, she attended her 175th banquet.

“Teaching public speaking is my passion because it has such a major impact on the educational  insights and personal confidence of the  students,” she said. “It changes them optimally, for the better, for life.”


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